Engaging Staff in Professional Development

At the MAACCE 2019 conference in Linthicum, Maryland, I shared the Adult Education Teacher Competencies and the ESL Pro materials on increasing rigor, digital literacy and career pathways.  In both workshops, participants brainstormed way to engage their staff in professional development.  Ideas generated by the group include: 

  • Work with state's education department to develop a credentialing/certification system for adult ed
  • Use the Adult Ed Teacher Competencies and self-assessment as a tool for teachers to reflect on their practice and prioritize their interests and needs for PD planning
  • Facilitate classroom observations to encourage teachers to improve practices such as formative assessments
  • Post PD opportunities on organization website for easy access and survey interests
  • Pair experienced teachers with new teachers for peer-to-peer mentoring
  • Use the language of adult ed teacher competencies to help teachers develop their craft (before using the competency labels!) and start conversations with them on what they're doing and what areas they'd like to improve or learn more about


In Rhode Island, we have been successful in engaging educators in PD with learning circles, a kind of study group developed by www.p2pu.org, where practitioners complete online learning in-person through weekly 1-2 hour meetups where participants alternate between the online learning space and discussion.  Talking about what they are learning, sharing ideas and learning from and with peers has been an effective way to offer peer support, encourage staff to engage in PD opportunities and get them excited about learning.  Our teachers have done learning circles with Google educator training and other online courses.  

Please share your strategies for engaging adult education staff in PD.  We'd love to hear about your state's or organization's policy for PD as well as successful practices.  

Thank you, 

Sherry Lehane


Hello Sherry, and others,

I'm familiar with learning circles for adult ESOL/ESL, as you know Sherry, and am now learning about them for ASE from colleagues in the Detroit and Queens (NYC) public libraries, but would like to learn more about using learning circles for adult basic skills (including ESOL/ESL) professional development. You piqued my interest and, if you wouldn't mind, I have a few questions:

1. Typically how many weeks are your PD learning circles, or does this vary depending on the online content or other variables. If it varies, what are some of the considerations in determining the length?

2. Typically how many teachers/instructors/tutors register for a learning circle? From your perspective, what's the ideal sized group?

3. What are some of the activities you offer teachers in the face-to-face learning circle PD meetings?

4. If you have formally or informally evaluated any of your PD learning circles, or informally discussed them, what have you learned about successes and challenges? What advice would you give others offering PD learning circles in adult basic skills education?

5. I am particularly interested in learning more about how you do Google educator training in learning circles. Please share some of the details.

6. I wonder what you think of using learning circles for Google Apski  trainings, i.e. Google Applied Digital Dkills training for teachers or for teacher trainers. Do you do that? Have you considered it? Do you think that might be a good alternative to one-hour or three-hour Google Apski trainings wher more training and practice might be needed, especially for teachers or teacher trainers who are not already very familiar with Google tools?

Thanks for raising this great topic, Sherry. I wonder if others have questions about what learning circles are, what p2pu learning circles are -- and how to learn more about them, about English language learning circles for adults on waiting lists for English classes or as a blended learning strategy for English language classes, or other questions. Please ask.

I would also like to hear from others here who may already be offering learning circles, including learning circles for professional development. Tell us how you are using them.

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group


Hi David and all, 

Thank you for the message.  I have some rather lengthy responses to your questions David. We are in our second year in offering learning circles for PD in adult ed. in Rhode Island.  We have also expanded to include student-led learning circles. We currently have 3 happening and I have not yet heard of the outcomes, but I will keep you posted.   Here's what I can offer thus far: 

1.  Length of time:  The length of the learning circles is determined by the online course and the amount of time participants want to spend doing the course work outside of learning circle (LC)  hours.  For the Google Educator course, we ran it as a 12 week LC last year.  That worked well.  This year, we are running Google Educator levels 1 and 2 as 8 week LCs because they started later and would like to end before July 1, 2019.  The online courses are about 18 hours each.  The LC cohorts meet for about 2 hours weekly.  Completing the course in 8 weeks requires them to work outside of the LC meetings this year.  We’ll see how it works.

2.  Number of participants:  Ideally there are 6 – 10 in each group.   Last year, we had 16 begin the Google educator training and 14 completed the training and took the final exam.   The 16 participants were divided into 3 cohorts and met regionally at either a library or an adult ed organization.  This year, the cohorts are smaller: 2-3.  Ideally, we want to have slightly larger groups; there is more discussion, sharing and learning.   With 2-3 participants, they others need to be very committed.  The difficulty arises in finding a time when everyone can meet, working around their teaching schedules.

3.  Activities:  The flow of the LC was very organic.  We began thinking there would be a facilitator and a note taker, but it wasn’t necessary.  In the Google educator trainings, there are break points for reflection built into the course. These are naturally stopping points for discussion.  We created unit templates for collaborative note taking. The templates followed the course outline and we asked teachers to capture their thoughts and ideas for application of tools and resources on each unit.  As teachers typed their notes into the Google docs, they shared the ideas aloud.  This was also an opportunity to learn from one another and use Google tools.  Some teachers had extensive experience using the tools and they taught others.  Other times, all members in the group decided they didn’t quite understand a particular tool, and they worked together to figure it out.  It was really a great picture of collaborative, peer-to-peer learning.

4. We did an end of year evaluation for all the PD offered by the Rhode Island Tech Hub in FY18.  One of the highlights that many commented on was the learning circles. They expressed their appreciation to learn with their peers and said the LC helped them stay on track and complete the course.  This year, I will build in specific questions about the LC in the evaluation of the learning pathways program.  

5.  I covered some details in #3, and here are a few more details. This year, we have added some technical assistance with face-to-face training on Google tools for level 1.  One reason is because the cohorts are small and also because we have added a coaching/mentoring component. The coach stays in touch with the cohorts and offers TA based on questions and feedback.  He did a 2 hour f2f training about 2 weeks into the course on Google docs, forms, and classroom.  The evaluations stated they needed the training and extra practice and now they wanted to continue to play with these tools outside of the course.  There will be one more f2f training and the coach is available for 1:1 help as well.  The topic of the next training will probably be Google sites and slides.   We have also added a final project, which is outside of the online course.  In the level 1 training, I felt that the application piece was missing.  Completing a final project, using  a rubric, will give participants the opportunity to create lessons and get feedback from peers.  The idea behind the final project is supporting teachers rather than evaluating them.  Google level 2 has lesson creation as part of the course.  We intend to use a rubric for level 2 as a guide. 

6. I love the idea of Google Apski and will look into it further.  Actually, teachers in the Google educator pathway could have chosen any of the Google online courses.  I think as teachers complete the level 1 and 2, they’ll explore the other google courses.  We gave the link to all the Google educator courses and let them choose which they’d like to complete.   The idea is to support educators in achieving the trainer certification and I think many of the courses will move them towards that goal. 

Lastly, we have hopes of contributing to the Google educator online courses, which only provides examples for K-12. I am hoping that as Google Grows develops, we will contribute the voice of adult ed in their educational resources.  Google Grow is coming to Rhode Island in May 2019.  I am not sure how helpful this will be in moving the dial to include adult ed, but I am hopeful.  

Thank you for the questions David and I look forward to hearing more questions, suggestions, and other ideas on this topic.

Sherry Lehane

Thanks, Sherry. These are very helpful responses.

Those who may be wondering how to learn more about learning circles might be interested in taking a new, free short online course developed by Peer 2 Peer University. Of course it might be ideal as a two - five-session learning circle so you and others who are interested could discuss it once a week in person as you go. If you take this course, let us know what you think. Did it answer your questions? What other questions do you have? After taking the course, are you planning to offer a learning circle? If so, what kind? Post your questions here, and perhaps Sherry or I, or P2PU invited staff could answer them. If there's enough interest, we might try to organize some LINCS special activities on learning circles.

From the p2pu.org website

This is a(n) openly-licensed online course about learning circles, created by Peer 2 Peer University. The course is divided into six modules, each of which can be explored in as little as 20 minutes, or as long as a few hours. Each module consists of three types of resources:

  • Background materials from P2PU for you to read and watch
  • Discussion prompts if you’re taking this course as a group
  • An activity that can be done either individually or in a group

Many of the resources and materials that you’ll interact with were developed by learning circle partners from around the world. In fact, pretty much everything you see here comes from the P2PU community forum, which you can access at any time. This course is dynamic in that it’s always being updated to reflect the latest insights and experiences of the P2PU community.

Intended Audience

The course is designed for anybody who is interested in running a learning circle. It is designed primarily to be taken in a group setting as a learning circle, but it’s also available to engage with individually. If you’re interested in having us run a training workshop with you, reach out to thepeople[at]p2pu[dot]org.

After completing this course, you should feel comfortable and excited about facilitating a learning circle on a topic of your choice. This means that you will:

  • Learn about P2PU and the values of the learning circle model
  • Consider what is needed for learning circles to work effectively in your community
  • Know how to find and assess good online courses
  • Be comfortable facilitating a small group discussion
  • Know where to reach out for help

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating technology group